We have come a long way since our fellow heroes at Stonewall stood up against the New York police.
Most of us might have the feeling that it got better. But for many LGBT people around the world, it is not getting better. For the first time since its existence, European LGBTI rights is backsliding.
As the LGBTI community, we need to understand our accomplishments can be reversed. History teaches us that any movement can be stopped.
Therefore, I think it is time to be more bond in defending our freedoms.
That’s why I, as an expert in LGBTi in international relations, have come up with five demands. World leaders must listen.
1. Do not make deals with anti-LGBTI governments
Decision-makers must not to close their eyes when they meet. Don’t make deals with homophobic and transphobic governments across the world.
If President Trump is making arms deals with Saudi Arabia, he is giving legitimacy to a regime that hangs people for being gay.
2. Don’t give away LGBTI privacy
It is thoughtless to give away all our most private information to companies. The recent decision of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to force a Chinese company to sell their stake in Grindr is not a bad one.
In recent years, more stories have come out of governmental suppression of any LGBTI movement. We can’t allow our opposition to get access to our information.
3. Understand LGBTI rights are human rights
Understand the most basic values of our society are also inherently linked to what the LGBTI community demands.
Support fellow LGBT+ people running for office. Just like men shouldn’t decide on women’s rights, straight people should also not solely decide on LGBTI issues. In all countries that have introduced LGBTI rights, it was not politicians that did it. It was the LGBTI community that advocated for several decades for those laws.
5. Be proud of the LGBTI community
Homophobic governments want to prevent us to be open about ourselves.
In 2013, Russia introduced an anti-propaganda law exactly for that reason. With this law, walking hand in hand with your boyfriend or girlfriend on the street can be perceived as a political act and can be persecuted. The grey, heterosexual and masculine political elite does everything to prevent us from becoming more visible. They are afraid to lose their power.
Stonewall hero Marsha P. Johnson once said: ‘History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable’.
Let us not focus on the past. But start writing our own history – today!
Rémy Bonny is a political scientist and LGBT+ activist from Belgium. He is also a specialist in the LGBTI movement in international relations
The first openly gay rights organization in the United States was established in 1924 by a German immigrant, Henry Gerber.
The Society for Human Rights had a significant and prophetic name. Over two decades before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Gerber understood that sexuality was defined as a human right. It’s true, this did not represent a breakthrough for gay people in the US in the wider culture: police raids led to the Society’s disbanding in 1925.
Rather, it was the beginning of a struggle.
Ninety-five years later, the Stonewall rebellion. This act of resistance, considered to be the most important milestone in the progress towards gay liberation in the US, celebrates 50 years in a few days.
With more countries understanding the essential truth of that early Society of Human Rights, that LGBTI rights are human rights, and with equal marriage recognized to a greater degree than ever before, LGBTI people in some parts of the world are beginning to see the fruits of that long, hard struggle.
Openly gay organizations cannot operate in Uganda
From the perspective of my own country, Uganda, however, an openly gay organization cannot operate.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed into law by Uganda’s president in 2014 but later annulled by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on grounds that it was passed without a quorum, as required.
The annulment was a great win but it did not stop the harassment of LGBTI communities by the Ugandan Police and media, by Simon Lokodo who serves as the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, and by homophobic citizens.
Homosexuality is criminalized in most African states. Only a few don’t have written laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy, and one or two have begun the process of throwing out what is principally colonial era legislation introduced by the British to control African sexuality.
Instead of Uganda learning from those few African countries that are decriminalizing homosexuality and trying to fight homophobia, it is taking steps backward. For example, Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament in Uganda, threatened that Uganda would withdraw from the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) if they were to keep pushing for the rights of LGBTI people in a declaration on migrants and refugees.
Denying human rights to LGBTI citizens
It is perhaps the greatest human rights violation for a government to deny that any group of people can rely on universally recognised human rights, that they even have human rights at all, but that is what the Ugandan government has effectively tried to do to the LGBTI communities.
This is Pride Month and Gay Pride is considered one of the most precious moments in the gay communities’ year because that is when everyone gets together to celebrate who we are and where we have come from. People from all communities, including LGBTI communities and heterosexual allies, attend Gay Pride. It’s all about being happy and being yourself.
This is the time when openly gay activists and non-activists meet as well. The Ugandan government does not have a problem robbing us of such precious moments. Our events beyond pride, such as conferences, meetings, and educational workshops are always disrupted or banned; illegal arrests of LGBTI people are not uncommon. So it’s no surprise that Pride itself has consistently been crushed, often brutally.
Why do they hate us?
Where has all this hate come from?
Evangelical Christians, particularly from the U.S., have found a way of taking advantage of Ugandans. They lie to them and say homosexuality is imported, un-African.
As I have always said, homophobia is not African. Homophobia was imported along with the laws the British gave us.
Homosexuality is not new in Africa because it’s not something that can be invented or started. It breaks my heart to see minorities suffer the wrath of marginalization just because they’re not the majority. I don’t know why people think because a few people are doing something the rest don’t, it must be wrong or unnatural.
Why do those who hate us hate us? I don’t know. But here is what I do know, the LGBTI communities in Uganda, myself as an openly Ugandan gay man included, will stop at nothing in order to spread warm love, kindness, and the generosity that everyone deserves.
I believe we must spread love to receive love. I understand we still have a lot of work to do as Ugandans to achieve gay rights. That is why we can’t stop fighting even with the current harassment and injustice we face in Uganda.
Back in 1924 Henry Gerber and his colleagues in the US didn’t give up. They knew that LGBTI rights are human rights. A few African countries that have recognized this too and have rejected the importation of homophobia motivate us to keep moving and fighting. This is not a battle that can be won in a day, month or year, but we are hopeful. If others can do it, so can we.
Frank Mugisha is the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Follow him on Twitter.
The American dream to live in absolute freedom; safe from the threats, persecution, violence, psychological torture and even death the Cuban dictatorship has imposed on me because of my journalistic work fell apart in my hands as soon as I arrived in Louisiana. The Cubans here who are also seeking protection from the U.S. government welcomed me to the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility with an ironic surprise. They opened their arms and told me, “Welcome to hell!”
I could hardly believe they have spent nine, 10 and even 11 months asking, waiting for a positive response from immigration authorities in their cases.
I was under the illusion that after an asylum official who interviewed me at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Center in Tutwiler, Miss., on March 28 determined I had a “credible fear of persecution or torture” in Cuba, one hearing with an immigration judge would be enough to obtain my conditional release and pursue my case in freedom as U.S. law allows. But I was wrong. The locals (here at Bossier) once again took it upon themselves to dash my hopes.
“Nobody comes out of Louisiana!” they proclaimed.
It only took a few minutes for my dream, like that of many others, to turn into a nightmare. The more than 30 migrants who arrived in Louisiana on the afternoon of May 3, coming from Mississippi after more than a month detained at Tallahatchie, were plunged into a deep depression that continues today. Only the tears under the blanket that nobody can see are able to ease my desperation for a few minutes and then I once again feel it in my chest when I think of my family in Cuba who continues to receive threats of jail and death from the Cuban dictatorship because of my work with “media outlets of the enemy.” This reality is the only thing that awaits me back there. I therefore see the situation in Louisiana and I am once again afraid. I cannot see an exit. Prisoner here, prisoner if I return to Cuba. I feel trapped.
Violation of their own laws
I realized a few days after I arrived in Louisiana the subjectivity of who makes the decisions matters, not objectivity or attachment to those who are being held. Louisiana feels like a lost piece of “gringo” geography at which nobody seems to look, or to the contrary, it is a coldly calculated strategy that triumphs on authoritarianism, abuse of power or intransigence. I don’t know what to think.
More than a few who have arrived here have come to the conclusion the U.S. has made migrants its new business. Keeping migrants in their custody for so long keeps hundreds of employees and lawyers in business, as well as generating huge profits for the prisons with which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts. It has become clear the government prefers to waste more than $60 a day per migrant than set us free under our own recognizance.
“Louisiana is an anti-immigrant state,” Arnaldo Hernández Cobas, a 55-year-old Cuban man whose asylum process has taken 11 months, tells me. “It is not possible for any of the thousands of people who go through the process to leave victorious.”
Hernández tells me ICE agents have not met with him once during his confinement and the deportation officer has never seen him.
“I don’t know if I am allowed to have bail,” he says. “Judge Grady A. Crooks affirms that we do not qualify for this and he does not give it to those who qualify for it because they can flee. This only happens in this state because migrants in other places are released and can pursue their cases on the outside after they make bail.”
Another way to obtain conditional freedom is through parole, a benefit the federal government offers to asylum petitioners who enter the country legally and are found to have a credible fear of suffering, facing persecution or being tortured in their countries of origin.
“To grant it, ICE asks for a series of questions that relatives should send to them, but what is happening is that they don’t give them enough time to do so,” says Arnaldo.
This is exactly what happened with me.
My family managed to send the documents the next day for my parole interview, which was scheduled for the following day. ICE nevertheless denied me parole because I did not prove “that I am not a danger to society.” I am sure they didn’t even take my case seriously.
There are stories that border on the absurd because many migrants have received their parole hearing notifications the same day they should have filed their documents. One therefore feels as though ICE mocks you to your face and your feelings of helplessness reach the max.
The awarding of parole is a new procedure ICE must complete, but it does not go beyond that. They use this and other crafty strategies to “stay good” in the eyes of the law and they therefore keep asylum seekers in custody for months. They bring them to hearings they will not win, pushing for the deportation of those who do not succumb to the pressure of confinement without properly assessing the risk to their lives that returning to their native countries would entail.
ICE is required to free us a few days after it grants parole, and we already know it doesn’t want to do this. Their goal is to keep us locked up at all costs.
“The cruel irony is that the majority of asylum seekers who follow the law and present themselves at official ports of entry don’t have to ask an immigration judge for their release from custody,” declared Laura Rivera, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that provides legal assistance to immigrants, in an article titled, “Stuck in ‘hell’: Cuban asylum seekers wither away in Louisiana immigration prisons.” “To the contrary, their only avenue to secure their freedom is to ask the same agency that detains them, the Department of Homeland Security.”
But DHS — as Rivera details in the article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center — is ignoring its mandate to consider requests for release in detail. And to the contrary it denies conditional release without justification.
“Men are kept hidden from the outside world, locked up and punished for defending their rights and are forced to bring their cases before immigration judges who deny them with rates of up to 100 percent,” affirmed Rivera.
Another of the process violations in Arnaldo’s case was he was assured where he was first detained that he could win his case along with that of his wife, “but when he came” to Louisiana the judge “told me this was not allowed, that each case is different.” Arnaldo’s life cannot be different from that of his wife because they have been together for 37 years. His wife has been free for nine months, but he remains behind bars. And so, it happens with mothers and sons, brothers and people who have identical cases. Once again, subjectivity determines a person’s fate.
During his hearing with Crooks, Arnaldo declared he feels “very uncomfortable” because he considers him an extremist.
“He said that he only recognizes extreme cases,” says Arnaldo. “Doors mean nothing to him. He describes himself as a deportation judge, not an asylum judge. In the entire time that I have been here nobody has won asylum, not even bail, only deportations.”
Conclusive proof of the judge’s extremism came one day when another judge ran the hearings and the migrants who presented their cases that morning received asylum. The example could not have been more illustrative.
Douglas Puche Moxeno, a 23-year-old Venezuelan man who has spent nine months in Louisiana, also said the detainees “did not receive more information on how the process should be followed and how one should do it.”
“I don’t know if they explained to us the ways to obtain a conditional release,” he says.
In relation to their hearings, Douglas says “the judge told me that he knew the real situation in Venezuela, but he did not grant me asylum because I am not an extreme case. He is waiting for someone to come to the United States without an arm or a leg to be accepted.”
The migrants in Louisiana are trying every way possible to be released. They have made these complaints on television stations and have even gone to Cuban American U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“We have reached the point of filing a lawsuit against ICE,” Douglas explains. “A team of lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center have proposed a lawsuit seeking a reconsideration of parole. This is one of the most hopeful ways that we have to obtain freedom. If we are successful, the benefits will be for everyone.”
“Various protests to pressure authorities and to reclaim our rights as immigrants have been organized,” says Douglas. “Relatives, lawyers and various institutions have come together in Miami, Washington and even here in Louisiana to make ICE aware of the injustices that have been committed against us for more than a year.”
‘This is not your country’
Bossier is a jail deep in Louisiana, hidden in the woods that surround it. Each day inside of it is a constant struggle for survival that takes a huge toll on my physical, psychological and above all emotional capacities. More than 300 migrants live in four dorms in cramped conditions with intense cold and zero privacy.
My stay here reminds me of the school dorms in Cuba where we were forced to share smells, tastes and basic needs. Here we also share Hindu, African, Chinese, Nepali, Syrian and Central American migrants’ beliefs, cultures and ways of life.
My personal space is reduced to a narrow metal bed that is bolted to the floor, a drawer for my things and a thin mattress that barely manages to keep my spine separated from the metal, which sometimes causes back pain. The most painful thing, however, is the way the officers treat us. For “better or for worse,” you feel as though you are a federal prisoner.
“According to ICE, we are ‘detainees,’ not prisoners, but we have still suffered physical and psychological abuses,” says Arnaldo. “I remember one time when an official dragged a Salvadoran man to the hole for three days simply for eating in his bed. They don’t offer anything to us and they don’t talk to us, they yell. They wake you up by kicking the bed.”
“The slightest pretext is used to disconnect the microwave, the television or deny us ice, affirming this is a luxury and not a necessity,” alleges Arnaldo. “When we complain about these situations. They tell us, ‘This is not your country.’”
Smiles are not common inside the dorm. The faces of affliction and sadness predominate. Good news is almost always false and the frustration and stress this confinement causes us therefore returns.
“I feel very sad, afflicted here, as though I had killed someone because of the mistreatment that we receive, the place’s conditions,” declares Damián Álvarez Arteaga, a 31-year-old man who has spent 11 months as a prisoner in the U.S.
“Freedom is the most precious thing a human being has,” he adds. “I hope that I will receive a positive response to my case after spending so much time detained. We have demonstrated to the U.S. that we are truly afraid of suffering persecution or torture in Cuba.”
Hours in here seem to have no end: They stretch, they multiply, but they never shorten or pass quickly. Our only contact with the outside the world are telephone communications or video calls (at elevated prices) with relatives, friends or lawyers and sporadic trips to the patio to greet the son and take fresh air.
“In all of the time that I have been here, I have seen the son a few times and only for 15 minutes and this is because we have complained,” recalls Arnaldo.
The yard, as we also call it, is a small rectangle of fences and surveillance cameras with a cement surface at the center of it where some of us play soccer when they give us a ball. I roll the pants of my yellow uniform up to my knees to allow the sun to warm my extremities a bit while my eyes wander towards the lush forest that is a few meters away from me. I admire the sky, the few vehicles that are driving on the nearby highway and I take deep breaths of oxygen because I know I had just come out of the deep sea and desperately needed air to keep me alive.
“Everyday is the same here from the same food to the same activities,” says Douglas. “This prison does not have sufficient spaces to accommodate so many people for so long. We don’t have a library or family visits.”
‘Soup is currency’
My day at Bossier begins a bit before 5 a.m. With the call to “line-up,” I receive a plastic tray with my breakfast. Today is cereal day, low-fat milk, bread and a small portion of jelly. The menu is the same each day of the week. I always save part of it because there is nothing more to eat until midday.
“The food is not correct,” opines Damián. “My stomach is already used to that small portion. A piece of bread with hot sauce and some vegetables or mortadella cannot sustain an adult man, nor can it keep you in shape to resist such a stressful process.”
The last meal of the day is at 4 p.m., and because of this it is a fantasy to be in bed at 11 p.m. with a full stomach. I reduce the hunger pains with an instant soup to which I add some carrots and a hot dog that I steel for myself from the day’s meals.
Since I still have some money, I can buy soups and extra things to make Bossier’s bad food a little better. Bossier classifies those who don’t receive economic support from their families as “indigent” and they are forced to clean up for their fellow detainees in exchange for a Maruchan soup. Here soup is currency. Everything begins and ends with it, the savior of hungry nights.
“You can buy these and other things at elevated prices in the commissary, the only store to which we have access and for which we depend on everything,” says Damián.
Bossier’s medical services on the other hand are so basic that there is not even a doctor or nurse on call, nor is there an observation room for patients and consultations only take place from Monday to Friday.
“One who gets sick is put in punishment cells, isolated and alone, which psychologically affects us,” notes Arnaldo. “People sometimes don’t say they don’t feel well because they are afraid they will be sent to the ‘well.’ In extreme cases they bring you to a hospital with your feet, hands and waist shackled and they keep you tied to the bed, still under guard. I prefer to suffer before being hospitalized like that.”
Yuni Pérez López, a 33-year-old Cuban, experienced this unfortunate situation first hand. He was on the hole for six days because he had a fever.
“I felt as though I was being punished for being sick,” he says. “And even when the doctor discharged me, they kept me there. It was like being in an icebox: Four walls, a bed, a toilet and a light that never turns off. To leave from there I had to stop eating for an entire day to get the officials’ attention and they returned me to the dormitory.”
Bossier also leaves you chilled to the bone because we cannot use blankets or sheets to cover ourselves from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is not a question of esthetic or discipline because the officials are not interested in whether your bed is made well. The only thing that bothers them is when we are cover ourselves from the dorm’s intense cold.
The migrants interviewed by the Washington Blade are those who have been at Bossier the longest. They are all appealing Crooks’ decision not to grant them political asylum. I have not presented my case yet, so I am still a little hopeful that I will receive the protection of the U.S. Like them, I am trying to get used to this harsh reality and be strong, although most of the time sadness consumes me and erases positive thoughts.
The U.S. to me — like for many — does not represent a comfortable life, the newest car or McDonald’s. None of this will ever be able to fill the void of my family, friends or passionate love that I left behind. The U.S. represents the opportunity to LIVE, so I will hold on to it until the end.
The New Year rang in little cheer for transgender women in Malaysia. On January 1, a trans woman was killed in Klang, a Kuala Lumpur suburb, the third such killing in Malaysia in fewer than two months. Her death remains under police investigation. Like so many trans women in Malaysia excluded from the formal employment sector, this woman was a sex worker. She died falling—or was possibly thrown—from a moving vehicle. The driver, presumably her client, was arrested in connection with the death. He told police she jumped from the car after stealing his mobile phone. Trans sex workers in Klang, however, are convinced she was murdered.
Just three weeks earlier, also in Klang, another trans sex worker was beaten to death. While police have opened investigations into both cases, they hastily determined that the killings were not hate crimes. Rights advocates are skeptical, but as one trans activist put it, “the deceased can’t speak for herself.”
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Malaysia face violence from both state authorities and civilian actors. In September 2018, a Sharia court sentenced two women to caning for purportedly attempting to engage in homosexual relations. State religious officials and police officers have also physically and sexually assaulted transgender women arrested during raids to enforce Sharia laws that prohibit “a male posing as a female.”
Several Malaysian trans women have reported abusive arrests have diminished since an appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a state “cross-dressing” law in 2014. Malaysia’s highest court overturned the ruling on a technicality, but trans women say advocacy and awareness-raising have restrained officials. Now, trans women primarily fear violence from ordinary people: clients, partners, or strangers, including vigilante groups seeking to rid the streets of trans women. But even when state agents are not the culprits of violence, they bear responsibility for propagating discriminatory beliefs that may lead to hate crimes and for failing to denounce violence when it takes place.
Malaysia held a historic election in May 2018, in which the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) party, in power since independence in 1957, was massively defeated. Fed up with abuses of power, voters cast their ballots for change. The new coalition government, led by the Pakatan Harapan party, has delivered to a certain extent, dropping politically motivated charges against many activists and investigating corrupt officials. Yet, it has pointedly refused to embrace LGBT equality. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has described “LGBT” as among “things we cannot accept,” while Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim has called for mobilization against “LGBT tendencies and their ideas.” Furthermore, the deputy home minister has condemned LGBT “culture,” and religious affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa has promoted the scientifically discredited idea that LGBT people should and could “change” their sexual orientation or gender identity and return to the “right path.”
Malaysia’s federal penal code, which dates back to British colonialism, punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to twenty years in prison. The country’s thirteen states and federal territories each have their own Sharia criminal enactment, applicable to Muslims. Almost all such state laws prohibit same-sex relations. They also prohibit “posing” as someone of a different sex, making Malaysia one of the few countries in the world that locks people up simply for being transgender.
When religious authorities in Terengganu state, which is run by the opposition Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), caned two women for lesbian acts, some ruling party officials voiced objections regarding the nature of the punishment, and PH leader Anwar Ibrahim suggested that same-sex relations should be decriminalized. Anwar should know: as the most famous casualty of Malaysia’s “unnatural offenses” law, he was twice imprisoned between 1999 and 2018 on politically-motivated sodomy charges. However, his party has taken no steps toward decriminalizing sodomy, nor toward persuading states to repeal anti-LGBT provisions in their Sharia enactments.
Instead, the current administration continues its predecessor’s anti-LGBT policies, focusing on “rehabilitation” and prohibition of so-called “promotion of LGBT culture” (any form of LGBT visibility), while maintaining the threat of sanction through state and federal laws. The ethnically and religiously diverse Pakatan Harapan coalition appears determined to legitimize its Islamic credentials to bolster support among Malay Muslims, many of whom voted in favor of the long-ruling UMNO party or Islamist opposition parties in 2018. This battle for the Malay heartland, presumed to be socially and religiously conservative, causes politicians from across the political spectrum to emphatically adopt anti-LGBT positions. Activists argue that Pakatan Harapan’s unwillingness to ally itself with LGBT people’s struggle for equal rights and its silence in the face of hate crimes renders it complicit in those crimes, and that jockeying by politicians to avoid being seen as pro-LGBT fuels hate. One clear battleground is online. Multiple LGBT people and rights activists have reported a spike in anti-LGBT hate speech on the Internet since the elections. In August, one trans-led group filed a police complaint about social media posts promoting anti-LGBT violence. Six months later, they had still not received a response
In this context, when eight men in Seremban assaulted a trans woman known as Suki in August 2018, beating her so severely that doctors had to remove her spleen, police who interviewed her in the hospital asked her why she thought she had been attacked. She responded with outrage: “They’re in the police station. Shouldn’t you be asking them instead of me?” In December, attackers pulled two men from a car in Kuala Lumpur and beat them for allegedly engaging in same-sex intimacy, then circulated a video of the assault on social media.
Police have made arrests in some of the recent hate-crimes cases. Two killings from 2017—one of a trans woman named Sameera Krishnan, stabbed and shot to death in Kuantan, and another of 18-year-old student T. Nhaveen in Penang, beaten to death by high school classmates who had bullied him for being “effeminate”—have resulted in ongoing prosecutions. Yet, when police refuse to acknowledge that acts of violence might be bias-motivated crimes, as they have with the killings of trans women in Klang, and when the authorities fail to condemn attacks, LGBT people are left feeling that the state does not support them. Even if perpetrators are brought to justice, a strictly punitive approach without a prevention strategy or meaningful change in political leaders’ approach to LGBT rights are all unlikely to stem the violence. A punitive approach also raises its own human rights concerns; a murder conviction, for instance, carries the death penalty in Malaysia. Many of the alleged assailants in these cases are young people who have been molded by societal and state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia. As long as authorities shut down positive portrayals of LGBT people while promoting a harmful “change” narrative, school textbooks portray LGBT people as deviant, and Malaysian law considers them criminals, impressionable young Malaysians may choose to take the law into their own hands.
Pakatan Harapan’s campaign manifesto promised to “make [Malaysia’s] human rights record respected by the world.” Malaysia must prioritize the right to life and the right to be free from violence—rights which currently elude many LGBT people. If Malaysia’s government wishes to address anti-LGBT violence, it must condemn the attacks and recognize that many of them are hate crimes. It should roll out a multi-pronged prevention plan, to include promoting public discussion of LGBT rights, removing harmful stereotypes from textbooks, discontinuing anti-LGBT state programs, and initiating legal reforms to advance LGBT equality. The police should undergo training in recognizing and investigating anti-LGBT hate crimes. Denial may be politically expedient, but lives are at stake. The deceased demand to be heard.
*Thilaga Sulathireh is with Justice for Sisters, an advocacy group working on human rights of trans and LGBTIQ+ persons in Malaysia.
Though old enough to have had firsthand knowledge of Stonewall (I was 22 when the riots occurred) my understanding of Stonewall came from hearing about it from friends and reading about it many years later. Though I grew up in upper Manhattan, anything having to do with gay life was something out of my experience.
When the Stonewall Riots began on June 28, 1969, I had just graduated from college and was on my way across the country. I was living a deeply closeted life. Even after going to work for gay rights advocate Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) in 1972 it would be nearly 12 more years until I came out. So it was much later that I learned how much I owed those who took part in the riots and how the repercussions were to impact my life.
When I did come out in the early 1980s, I met and got to know Frank Kameny learning he demonstrated for gay rights before Stonewall. A little research confirmed that with a few others Kameny led a picket line protesting government treatment of gays and lesbians in front of the White House on April 17, 1965 — four years before Stonewall.
After coming out, I joined the fight for equality for the LGBTQ+ movement meeting many who were there before me to whom I owed much. Our community must recognize the very fast pace of change that has occurred for us compared to other minority groups and women. Until the Trump administration things were going at lightning speed for our equality movement compared to the hundreds of years it took for African Americans and knowing women still can’t get the Equal Rights Amendment passed by states that was first introduced in Congress in 1923. So while some think things have moved slowly, I hope when Democrats once again take the Senate and the presidency we will be able to pass the Equality Act first introduced in Congress by Bella in 1974.
We have gained recognition by society in some ways just as important if not more so than legislation. We have gained the right to marry even though in 37 states we can marry on Sunday and be fired from our jobs or thrown out of our homes on Monday.
I think the debate in our community as represented by the two competing parades being held in New York to celebrate 50 years since Stonewall are in some ways emblematic of our success. This year there is a counter march to the New York Pride parade called the “Reclaim Pride” march honoring Stonewall. It is a back-to-basics march without any outside participation from the corporate or government communities. While I can respect the views of the leaders of this march and wish them success, I think our success has been that government and the corporate communities want to march with us.
To me a celebration of those who took part in Stonewall and others like Kameny would include corporate floats, the police and military in uniform. We fought for broad-based acceptance and recognition for members of our community. Why is it a bad thing if a corporation is proud to have its gay employees march openly under their banner in a pride parade? Why should we not celebrate police departments proud to have their LGBTQ members and other officers who support them march openly? Then there is the military who some object to having participate. We fought long and hard to have members of the LGBTQ community be able to serve openly in the military. Why would we now not want them to march proudly in the uniforms they worked so long and hard to wear?
I am not blind to how far we have to go. There is discrimination in our society, even in our own community, especially toward people of color and women. We must demand our police be appropriately trained and diversify. We must rid police departments of those who allow their racial biases to influence their actions.
We honor those who were at Stonewall when we let corporations celebrate with us after 50 years of our activists fighting for this to happen.
When we needed help fighting anti-gay laws in North Carolina and Indiana among other places the business community stood with us. Those of us who are out need to live our pride every day of the year. We need to urge more and more people to come out and it’s so much easier if they know their neighbors and their employers say “you are welcome here and we support you.” We honor Stonewall when we are inclusive.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
Twitter getting you down? Fed up with Facebook? Irate with Insta? You’re not the only one who thinks social media can be a real pain.
One leading expert says social media has changed what it means to be a young person struggling with sexual identity.
Best selling author, philosopher and historian, Yuval Noah Harari, has been talking about this very modern issue the first National Conference for Israel’s LGBTI Community, on Tuesday in Tel Aviv.
The conference comes ahead of the Middle East’s largest gay pride parade in the city this Friday.
Harari noted that social media can be an essential lifeline for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people who live outside of liberal bubbles like Tel Aviv, the Times of Israel reported.
But the bestselling author of Sapiens warned there is also a dark side to social media. He said it can be used for government surveillance, manipulation, and control.
‘All of the online world has done some wonderful things, like enabling people who have no immediate community to be part of something,’ Harari said after the panel session with musician Ivri Lider and journalist Ilana Dayan.
‘When I grew up [in Kiryat Ata, near Haifa], there was nowhere I could go, no one I could meet.’
Harari, met his husband of 17 years on one of the first gay online dating websites, called CheckMeOut. This was a long-defunct website that predated the popular gay meet-up app Grindr, the paper said.
Fight for gay rights different
The fight for gay rights is different from other social struggles, such as black activists fighting against racism, Harari said.
Because LGBT people are usually not born into gay families, they must first overcome a sense of isolation, Harari said. They also must make a community for themselves and win family support, before joining the public struggle.
Social media helps diminish this isolation by providing a tool for people on their personal journeys to start reaching out and finding allies and like-minded people, he said.
But using technology to build these bridges also has a dark side.
“[Social media and the internet] also means that LGBTI people are extremely vulnerable to surveillance and abuse,” Harari said.
‘I just read an article about Christian fundamentalist groups who are targeting LGBTI teenagers with advertisements for conversion therapies, which basically play on their insecurities.
‘They target people using the Facebook algorithm, so you don’t even have to identify as gay, it’s enough if you clicked on some gay related news issues or stories and they target you.’
Life threatening impact
Beyond manipulative advertising, social media surveillance of LGBT people can also be life threatening, the Times reported.
‘In Egypt, there was a case where the police used Grindr to arrest people’, Harari said.
‘You have more and more regimes today around the world which target LGBT people. With the new technologies coming along, the danger is that as the political climate worsens, there is no way you can even hide.’
‘The option that once existed, to hide yourself in the closet, had some terrible consequences, because it meant that people did not fight against the oppressive system, but at least it was a survival mechanism on a personal level,’ Harari added.
‘In the future, there might not be any option of going back to the closet because the technology makes the closet completely transparent.’
Tel Aviv is in the midst of its 2019 Pride Week celebrations. This Friday’s parade is expected to attracted 200,000 people, the Times said.
Friday’s march will wind through the streets and on to a beach and party, complete with party floats and DJs.
In countries struggling with discrimination and oppression, a U.S. embassy is seen as a beacon — not of perfection, but of the continuing fight toward greater equality and opportunity. That shouldn’t stop in June, when countries around the world come together to celebrate the LGBTQ community and remember the advocates who fought and continue to fight for equality. Prior to joining NBC, I was a civil servant at the State Department and in 2016, when posted in Frankfurt, Germany, I was responsible for raising the pride flag in front of the consulate during Pride Month.
In countries struggling with discrimination and oppression, a U.S. embassy is seen as a beacon — not of perfection, but of the continuing fight toward greater equality and opportunity.
Earlier that summer, in the days after the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, several German towns planned vigils to honor the victims, and I attended as a symbol of gratitude for their solidarity. Together, we pledged that Germany and America would always fight back against the hatred that fueled the attack. A month later, raising the flag at the consulate was a continuation of that message.
United States embassies have been flying the distinctive rainbow flags and engaging in Pride activities for years, but Washington didn’t dictate how it should be done. As with almost all public outreach abroad, experienced American diplomats and staff from the host country determine how to best convey our policies and values in a way that will resonate with communities in that country. They do this knowing that public support from the U.S. embassy can often move the needle on many issues overseas.
In other words, when an embassy makes the decision to raise the pride flag, it’s because the diplomats posted there believe doing so could have a genuine impact on the LGBTQ dialogue in their host country. The opposite is also true: A decision to stop flying the flag, after years of doing so, sends a clear and troubling signal to local communities. I trust our diplomats to know what’s best. And I would hope State Department officials in Washington would allow them to do their jobs.
As NBC News first reported, although the embassies can’t raise pride flags on their flagpoles, they can still be hung in other places — on the building’s walls or inside. But diplomacy is all about symbolism and messaging, and no longer allowing pride flags on the U.S. flagpoles is sending the world the wrong message about our values.View image on Twitter
In some countries, American diplomats are able to engage freely and actively in the local community. In others, our embassies are surrounded by tall walls, and security concerns severely limit what diplomats can do and where they can go. Yet in all of these countries, even above the walls, the U.S. flag is instantly recognizable for the many things it stands for. When the pride flag appears below it, the message of American values and LGBTQ tolerance are unmistakably intertwined.
In Trump’s tweets to honor Pride, he said we must “stand in solidarity with the many LGBTQ people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals…on the basis of their sexual orientation.” What better way to stand with people in those countries than by visibly showing it at our embassies? Not all American ideals can be clearly communicated in a flag. But when we have one that works — and that’s been working for years — why not use it?
The U.S. is not an equal society, and it has a long way to go before it can truly call itself one. But one of the things that sets us apart from other countries is our ability and willingness to have hard conversations when we need to — conversations that honor how far we’ve come, while talking openly about what we still have yet to do. LGBTQ equality is a perfect example of this ongoing process, and even the pride flag itself is symbolic of the LGBTQ community’s continuing need to be more inclusive of people of color.
The U.S. evolution on LGBTQ equality is rocky and ongoing, but our discussion of it is also honest. We have the potential to lead many countries by example — but only if we continue our tradition of starting the conversation. Embassies should be allowed to use the position of American leadership for good. They should be able to raise the pride flag.
GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, today called on President Donald Trump and his administration to honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots by declaring June as National Pride Month. The riots at the Stonewall Inn back on June 28,1969 sparked the creation of the LGBTQ movement and the beginning fight toward LGBTQ acceptance across the nation.
“In just fifty years, LGBTQ Americans have become indispensable to the United States of America thanks to the hard work of countless LGBTQ leaders who bravely called out injustice and hate. Yet, as LGBTQ acceptance around the U.S. spreads, President Trump has made anti-LGBTQ actions his hallmark and only addresses the community when it serves his political gain,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. “If the President truly believes in his administration’s campaigns to end global LGBTQ criminalization and stop HIV transmissions by 2030, then he should recognize those LGBTQ Americans who fought and died for these ideas to even be possible during Pride month and throughout the year.”
A statement from the White House would support the administration’s two policy campaigns announced earlier this year. In January, President Trump released a plan to end HIV transmissions by 2030, and this spring, U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell announced a promise by the Trump Administration to help decriminalize being LGBTQ across the globe. Further, news reports found that the 2020 Trump Campaign began selling “LGBTQ for Trump” t-shirts ahead of Pride Month.
However, LGBTQ acceptance has been threatened by the most anti-LGBTQ government in recent memory, the Trump Administration. Not only has President Trump failed to recognize June as National Pride Month since becoming president, but his administration has issued more than 110 attacks on the LGBTQ community since the beginning of 2017. This includes the President’s ban on allowing transgender servicemembers from serving in the nation’s armed forces and opposition to the Equality Act, a bill which would provide across-the-board protections for LGBTQ Americans at home, at work, and in their communities.
The date April 3rd has held a unique place in our history over the years. Theologians and astronomers will tell you that Christ was crucified on that date. On April 3rd Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan, arguably the greatest postwar intervention in the history of man. The first portable cellphone call was made on April 3rd. Marlon Brando was born on that day.
But this April 3rd will hold its own place in history. On this particular April 3rd the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay. Let that sink in. In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism this stands alone.
Brunei isn’t a significant country. Its population is less than 500,000 people, pretty small in relation to most of its neighbors, The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia. But Brunei has oil. This year it was ranked as the 5th richest nation by Forbes. Good for them. Of course they haven’t had an election since 1962 and have adopted the most extreme version of Sharia law so, not so good for them. At the head of it all is the Sultan of Brunei who is one of the richest men in the world. The Big Kahuna. He owns the Brunei Investment Agency and they in turn own some pretty spectacular hotels.
A couple of years ago two of those hotels in Los Angeles, The Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel were boycotted by many of us for Brunei’s treatment of the gay community. It was effective to a point. We cancelled a big fundraiser for the Motion Picture Retirement Home that we’d hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years. Lots of individuals and companies did the same. But like all good intentions when the white heat of outrage moves on to the hundred other reasons to be outraged, the focus dies down and slowly these hotels get back to the business of business. And the Brunei Investment Agency counts on that. They own nine of the most exclusive hotels in the world. Full disclosure: I’ve stayed at many of them, a couple of them recently, because I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t know who owned them.
They’re nice hotels. The people who work there are kind and helpful and have no part in the ownership of these properties. But let’s be clear, every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery. Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens? I’ve learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can’t shame them. But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way.
Below I’ve listed the nine hotels. It’s up to each of us what we want to do.
The Dorchester, London 45 Park Lane, London Coworth Park, UK The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles Le Meurice, Paris Hotel Plaza Athenee, Paris Hotel Eden, Rome Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan
The Democratic field of contenders continues to grow and I am impressed by the wide range of talent in the party. On Nov. 7, 2018 I wrote that Democrats need a coherent message and younger candidates to win in 2020. My thought was there should be no one over 70 on the ticket. I stand by that today.
Over the past two years many said they fear there isn’t a strong bench in the Democratic Party. To my thinking they have been proven wrong. All we need do is look at the array of candidates who have already announced they will enter the Democratic primary including Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Gov. Jay Inslee to name just a few. They represent a diverse set of backgrounds; there are women, minorities and even a gay candidate. What they all have in common is they are smart and looking to serve to ensure more equal opportunity for all Americans.
While they speak of a better future they have differing ideas on how we get there. They speak to the American voter in different ways and over the year we will see what resonates with those voters. They all recognize Trump and his policies are anathema to the future of America they believe in. They would all be wise to remember Barack Obama was elected on the slogan of hope and change, and try to reignite the feeling of hope in the voters that things can get better.
As an older American myself I feel comfortable calling on the elders in the Democratic Party to realize we are at a crossroads in our country. Millennials and young people are going to be the biggest voting bloc in the nation. Like each new generation they think and view the world differently than we do. They may like the programs we elders rely on like Medicare and Social Security but may not feel they will be there for them. They also realize they will be paying into those programs to support us elders for many years. They legitimately will question the party if we continue to put up candidates who can be their grandparents or in many cases their great grandparents.
I remember my excitement in 1960 as a 13 year old supporting John F. Kennedy. He was young, vibrant and someone I could connect with. Democrats win with younger vibrant candidates such as Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Obama. In 2018 we elected a host of younger candidates to Congress.
I am not suggesting those over 70 don’t have a role in the party — they do and an important one. They have worked hard to move us forward and in doing so gained their experience and wisdom. Sharing that with the next generation of leaders is important. We also want to know the next generation we elect recognizes that wisdom and experience and understands there are so many roles from issue advisers, to White House advisers, to cabinet secretaries they can fill. President Obama recognized he needed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and chose Joe Biden as his vice president, both having years more experience than he did.
Today, the youngest of the announced candidates is Peter Buttigieg at 37. Clearly if he were to be elected he would need the elders of the party to share their knowledge and wisdom. The same for the broad, diverse spectrum of other candidates like Harris, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, and Booker. I would think those elders would make the same decision Hillary Clinton has made and realize the time has come for them to step off center stage.
I have seen columns attacking each of our candidates as they announce. Bringing up all their problems and making it clear we have no perfect candidate. But then there is no perfect voter. We each have our foibles and have each done things in our lives we would rather not have done or said. Attacking someone for being a cis white male of privilege makes little sense. He had no more choice in being born that way than someone of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The focus should be on what you do with that privilege.
The diversity of our candidates is exciting. I hope Democrats end up with a woman on the ticket. There are a number of qualified women running. Each of our candidates will have their chance to make their pitch to the primary electorate in the next year before the first primary. We should listen to them all carefully as they make their case. I will also try to think about how they will be able to make their case to the general electorate, which is different from the Democratic primary voter. For the good of the nation and the world we must defeat Trump and reclaim our government.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.